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Sage Colleges Establishes Rural Distance Learning Network With Political and Corporate Help


After five years of working to secure grants and engineer a network, Sage Colleges have a distance learning network that stretches from Albany to the Canadian border. The system, entitled the Adirondak Area Network (AAN), offers educational services "K through infinity," according to Dave Bonner who was a leader on the project.

AAN connects 50 institutions and 25 video sites. Users can log on to courses ranging from elementary school subjects to advanced courses in physical therapy and computer programming. AAN also features telemedicine and free legal advice. Credit-bearing courses began this semester, after a trial open-enrollment semester was used in the fall to increase awareness.

Funding for the project had to be secured from grants. State and Federal politicians involved themselves in helping Sage secure the money needed, Bonner said. Politicians such as Congressman Gerald B. Solomon (R-NY) and New York State Senator Ronald B. Stafford (R-NY) wrote letters and made personal contacts to U.S. Departments, and gave tips to Bonner on the best grants for which to apply, he said. For example, one of Stafford's top aides phoned Bonner and told him of a possible grant. Sage Colleges applied for the grant, which eventually turned into $1.38 million for AAN. Bonner said the using politicians is only one factor in making AAN work, but they were nonetheless essential.
Initial plans for engineering AAN were rejected because it was thought the system could not be made to work. But eventually, distance learning service vendors were able to collaborate and design a network to facilitate AAN's educational needs. Bonner said if not for the engineers at RadVision, VTEL, Bell Atlantic, Cisco and NiserNet, AAN would not have happened.

People in New York discovered the potential value of AAN to rural communities this winter after an ice storm struck, making many of the roads impassable. Though phone lines were down, AAN did not shut down due to frame relay technology that allows connections to bypass down phone lines. As long as it is not the last leg running into the building, the connection remains.

Al Gore made a presentation of AAN at the Public Utility Land Project (PULP) conference held in Washington, DC last week.